To explore the world of OFWs, one has to understand the windups of working outside the Philippine Archipelago. For instance, the global competition opened its doors for the developing countries to attract foreign businesses, thereby making foreign-capital enterprises station to the area. For this reason, companies and host countries per se look for workers who have suitable qualifications and work experiences. By this, Filipinos tend to work in another country for greater opportunities, which may better their professional growth, personal development, and socio-economic status. Then again, how does one become an Overseas Filipino Worker? Is an OFW considered an expat? What distinguishes the former from the latter? And most importantly, does it even matter?
This article offers an examination of both terms, in order to arrive at a conclusion as to whether or not Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are expatriates.
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs): A Historical Trajectory
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) refer to Filipino people with Filipino citizenship, who reside in another country for a limited period of employment. Historically, however, the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment states that “active and systemic migration of Filipinos for temporary employment” began during the 1960s, when the Government of United States, contractors of the United States Armed Forces, and civilian agencies, began recruiting Filipinos to work in the construction and service sector (GMA News, 2012). However, it was particularly during the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, that the term Overseas Contract Worker (OCW) was used to refer to Filipinos who are working abroad.
Following the People Power Revolution of February 1986, the Republic Act 8042 or Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act thereby became law in 1995. Hence, it was not until in the 1990s that the term Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) was used to refer to Filipino workers abroad. The term OFW was then officially adopted by the Philippine government when the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) adopted the 2002 POEA Rules and Regulations Governing the Recruitment and Employment of Land-based Overseas Workers (GMA News, 2012). While we are on the subject, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) is a government agency tasked with supervising labor recruitment agencies in the Philippines. Recruitment and deployment agencies are mandated by the POEA to monitor the situation of Overseas Filipino Workers, including if they are with their supposed employers, and if provided assistance in case of emergency.
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs): Their Bearings and Contributions
In the present context, OFWs are regarded as the modern heroes of the country. The Filipinos’ culture of strong family ties and strong sense of kinship fuel most of the OFWs’ determination to withstand the homesickness and adjustments of cross-cultural experiences. More so, OFWs are also known to be the biggest export earners and among the largest contributors to the growth of Philippine economy (Department of Finance, 2017). In a statement, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said personal remittances from Overseas Filipino Workers amounted to $2.89 billion in September 2020, which was higher by 9.1 percent than the $2.65 billion recorded in September 2019 (Inquirer, 2020).
Expatriates: A Closer Look
The term expatriate comes from the Latin terms ex which means “out of” and patria which means “native country”. As provided by the Oxford dictionary, the term expatriate simply means “a person who lives outside their native country”. In its common usage, however, expatriates often refer to professionals, skilled workers, or artists who are taking positions outside of their home country, either independently or sent abroad by their employers− which can be companies, universities, governments, or non-governmental organizations. Accordingly, successful expatriation is driven by a combination of individual, organizational, and context-related factors. As such, the cross-cultural abilities of expatriates enable them to adjust in different cultural contexts, vis-a-vis their adaptive thinking behaviors.
OFWs: Expats or Not?
Now that we have defined each term according to their epistemology and common usage, we already have an idea of what makes the two terms similar and different. One may encounter side-comments that the differences between the two are the racial, classist, and elitist components of the use of these terms in certain contexts. For instance, a comment from Reddit on the difference of OFWs and expats says that,
“…I think there are racial and elitist components of the use of the words in certain contexts, definitely. I think it’s classist more than anything else.”
However, the difference is really simple. Expats is a general term, which pertains to a person who lives outside their native country. On the other hand, OFW is a more specific term, which refers to Filipinos who are working outside their native country. Of course, this already poses the connotation that when one works outside of his/her native country, he/she consequently lives in his/her host country for a period of time. Hence, if we are to deduce these definitions, we can syllogize that all Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are expats, but not all expats are Filipino workers. Case in point, a Filipino national who is working in Saudi Arabia is an expat, but a Burmese national who also works there is definitely not an OFW.
The connotations, preconceptions, and assumptions that come with these terms do not really have any bearing on their differentiation. After all, Filipinos who chose to work in another country have varying reasons and purposes. For some, working outside the Philippines is a conscious decision and a well-planned dream, disregarding the possible life-altering and monster-truck adjustments that they have to face while staying abroad. Conversely, some were deployed by their employers in order to adapt cross-cultural competence, for higher work participation and job performance in the future. For others however, the difficulty of their family’s socio-economic status spread over Philippine political problems, motivated their decision of leaving our homeland. So to speak, the difference between the two neither concern the perks that these workers enjoy, nor their salary, nor their race, nor their economic status. At the end of the day, it is not one’s race, ethnicity, nor social class which defines a good and competent employee. Instead, it is in one’s hard work, dedication, accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness that makes up higher employment contributions and quality job performances.